McGovern rallies for hunger initiativeBYLINE:
WASHINGTON, May 17 BODY:
Former Sen. George
McGovern, D-S.D., can never forget the televised 1960s image of a young Southern
boy who stood empty-handed and penniless on the edge of his school cafeteria as
his friends ate school lunch. A CBS TV reporter approached the boy, asking him
how it felt. The boy's words -- "I'm ashamed, I ain't got any money" -- became
the turning point in the senator's campaign against hunger.
"I remember saying to my daughters, who were watching the program with
me, it's not that little guy who should be ashamed -- it's George McGovern," the
former Democratic presidential candidate, 83, told United Press International
"I was a U.S. senator on the Senate
Agriculture Committee, engaged in feeding hungry people abroad, and I didn't
even know if you don't have money for lunch (in the United States), you didn't
eat," said McGovern, also the first United Nations global ambassador on
The day after the program aired, McGovern went
to the Senate floor and proposed a select committee on U.S. malnutrition and
hunger. The committee led to the 1966 National Child Nutrition Act, which
started the National School Lunch Program. For the first time, every child who
needed lunch could get it.
Forty years later, 29
million kids participate in the school lunch program -- yet only 9 million take
part in the federal School Breakfast Program, which sits on $300 million to $400
million in unused funds because schools choose not to take part, McGovern said.
In response, McGovern, along with former Sen. Bob
Dole, R-Kan., became a spokesperson for the Got Breakfast? campaign, launched in
December 2005 to provide breakfast for the 14 million U.S. children who often go
hungry. Hunger relief organizations, such as Share our Strength and Alliance to
End Hunger, as well as the National Dairy Council, are supporting the effort.
East Side Entrees, a producer of nutritional,
child-friendly foods, has also joined the initiative with Breakfast Breaks,
a breakfast package for children. The package,
which contains a bowl of cereal, juice and a snack, is shelf-stable, so kids can
eat it on the bus or in the classroom.
anniversary of the school breakfast program is this fall, but why are we not
reaching all these children for breakfast?" said Gary A. Davis, chief executive
officer of East Side Entrees. "This program is in place, the need is there, but
the message still needs to get out."
studies have shown kids do poorly in school, act up more in class and even have
trouble with social skills -- along with the lack of key nutrients for
Kids often opt out of school
breakfast because of the stigma associated with hand-outs: No one wants to be
that needy kid. But a breakfast package could help kids avoid the cafeteria and
allow them to eat at their own convenience, Davis said.
Schools are also to blame. Many school officials assume parents will
feed kids at home, an increasingly difficult feat in the rushed atmosphere of
most homes. Gone are the days when families sit around the table at 7 a.m. to
have a civilized breakfast.
Yet, even that attitude is
changing: "Schools are more readily recognizing they're responsible for these
kids during school hours," McGovern said. That means providing a breakfast,
lunch and after-school snack.
Of course, sometimes kids
would rather chat with friends than eat breakfast -- and that's where parents
come in, to instill advice on what best to eat.
low-income parents, the breakfast and lunch programs are critical to their
survival, said Patricia Bland Nicklin, director of Share our Strength. "This is
incredibly important to their economics as a family -- it allows them to focus
on rent and healthcare," Nicklin said.
pointed to the good news -- over the years, the United States has made a big
dent in childhood hunger. Got Breakfast? already has reached 175 school
districts and expects to reach 325 by September 2006. The school system of
Newark, N.J., recently was awarded the Got Breakfast? award for making a goal of
feeding nearly 100 percent of their kids.
breakfast -- the most important meal of the day -- continues to be the most
"If you go up to Capitol Hill, you'll find
an acceptance of the ideas we're talking about," McGovern said. "But the problem
is not Congress anymore -- it's getting the school boards, the (PTAs) and the
teachers to see the availability of the program, and why it's a matter of great
importance to people who want to improve our education."